Almost There on the Senate Torture Report?

October 30, 2014–Straws in the wind suggest that the logjam of interests that have been blocking declassification and release of a portion of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigative report on Central Intelligence Agency torture projects may be breaking. If so the public might be on the verge of obtaining a clearer view of just what was done in the name of Americans.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has recently been quoted as saying that he will not step back from his insistence that the Senate report summary be released in its integral form and without substantial deletions. It has also been reported that the major remaining sticking point concerns whether to retain the pseudonyms of CIA officers responsible for the torture–which boils down to the question of placing criminal culpability–and which the agency predictably resists on the grounds that (some unknown) persons who know who the pseudonyms stand for will go after them. Langley appears to have backed down on its demand that the Senate document report only what the CIA approves (supposedly for purposes of presenting a “fair and balanced” view). Beyond the particulars of this report, the specificity of the discussion says to me that a final disposition is now close enough that individuals involved are prepared to discuss the remaining issues in some detail.

Another very significant indicator came in today’s New York Times, where a piece on President Obama’s senior advisers reports both that White House chief of staff Denis R. McDonough has pitched in to pinch hit for national security adviser Susan E. Rice, who had previously been handling the thorny issue of the torture report, and that McDonough recently visited Senate committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein at her California home to discuss the secrecy issues. McDonough was close to John Brennan, the current CIA director, when he was at the White House on the National Security Council (NSC) staff. As an intermediary he is in a unique position with the confidence of the president, the CIA chief, and the NSC boss, plus he has a senior enough position to make promises that stick.

I infer from these assorted indicators that the Wyden declaration amounted to a signal to Senator Feinstein that she had better not weaken, that the stall on the CIA report has become embarrassing enough that Obama is taking a direct hand in releasing it, and that Langley is signaling it will back down if agency operatives are protected. Of course, the purpose of the report was to obtain accountability, which takes us back to Feinstein and her position. The senator previously had been attacked by the CIA on phony grounds of secrecy violations. She was enraged then. How much of that attitude remains will determine how willing she may be to compromise now.

In any case it is becoming possible we shall shortly see something happen on this issue. Stay tuned.